Constitution (Amendment No. 24) Bill, 1934—First Stage.

I move: That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act so to amend Article 12 of the Constitution as to abolish Seanad Eireann as a constituent House of the Legislature created by that Article, and to make all such further or other amendments of the Constitution as may be consequential on or rendered necessary by such amendment of the said Article 12.

We shall oppose the First Reading of this Bill. I invite the President to make some statement as to his reasons for introducing it, to which I will reply.

As the Dáil knows, part of our policy at the last election was the abolition of Seanad Eireann as at present constituted. Some time ago we introduced a Bill for the purpose of limiting the powers of delay of Seanad Eireann and I think I explained, when we were introducing that Bill, that one of the reasons for not carrying out immediately our declared purpose in the election was that I had hoped it might be possible to arrive at some form of Second House which would have distinctive characteristics of its own, which would give independent judgment on public matters and would not be merely a reflex of the Dáil. It was objected by the Opposition at that time that the purpose of that Bill was to degrade and that they would prefer very much more that a Bill to abolish the Seanad entirely should be introduced rather than a Bill merely to lessen its powers.

I feel that action has got to be taken. I, for one, have not been able to devise a solution, nor has any solution been offered, for the problem of a distinctive Second Chamber so constituted that one could depend upon an independent judgment on public affairs, on any public matters that would be submitted to them. The Second Chamber, as at present constituted, appears to me to be an absolute menace to this country. In every country the Executive has placed upon it the final responsibility for the maintenance of order. Now, a situation arose in this country in connection with which, after very careful thought and with great reluctance, the Executive were forced to follow in the footsteps of other countries when faced with a similar situation. We came to a decision, and we were supported in that decision by the majority of the elected representatives here, that it was essential for the preservation of public order that the wearing of political uniforms should be forbidden. This Second Chamber, regardless of its responsibilities, acted in the most partisan manner, the character of which can best be realised by those who observed the speed with which, to assist a former Administration, they passed into law a measure which judges in the Supreme Court or in the High Court only yesterday characterised as extraordinary and unprecedented.

If this Government is to have the responsibility of the maintenance of order, we must be in a position to take the measures which are necessary. We feel that the action which the Seanad is taking is designed deliberately to hamper and prevent this Government from doing its duty in carrying out the policy which it presented to the country and got approval for. Accordingly, we have come to the conclusion that whatever may be the ultimate question, whatever may be the ultimate decision as to whether there should or should not be a Second Chamber here, the present Chamber, anyhow, as a preliminary has got to go. It is altogether unsatisfactory and it is for that reason this Bill is being introduced.

The introduction of this Bill represents just one thing and that is a very discreditable piece of bad temper. It is a curious coincidence that two or three minutes ago we had presented to us some amendments from the Seanad, 11, I think, on the Control of Imports Bill and the Minister for Industry and Commerce invited us to accept every one of them. That is something of a commentary on the alleged incapacity of our Second Chamber. If there were any sincerity in the desire of the Government to obtain a more satisfactory Second Chamber than we have got, there is a resolution here on the Order Paper—it has been on the Order Paper for a very considerable time—which has been allowed to remain there inoperative by the Government. The resolution in question was passed by the Seanad and it states:

"That it is expedient that a Joint Committee consisting of five members of the Seanad and five members of the Dáil, with the Chairman of each House ex officio, be set up to consider and report on the changes, if any, necessary in the constitution and powers of the Seanad.”

If the President feels as he says about the Second Chamber, why has he not taken advantage of that suggestion? Is this not a matter that it is proper and possible to deal with——

Not in that way.

——I fail to see why it is not both proper and possible to deal with this subject in a non-contentious manner. The President has a faculty for selecting the most contentious method of dealing with every subject that affects the interests of the country. He says that by their latest action in throwing out the Bill he was recommending to them last night, the Seanad have shown themselves unfit to be a Second Chamber. He says that the Government are responsible for order in this country, and that therefore the Chamber which does not take exactly the Government's view as to the way in which order had best be preserved does not deserve to exist. I cannot accept that contention. I cannot accept it even academically, still less can I accept it in practice, in view of what the order of events has been. If the Government have any fears or any difficulties in relation to the preservation of order in this country, they are of their own creating; they are the result of their own deliberate policy. The Attorney-General said in this House the other day:

"No good end is being served by having a state of things develop here by which one Party is to be dubbed traitors and the other Party to be regarded as the custodians of everything that is patriotic and national."

That is a saying that deserves to be written up in letters of gold in this House and in the editorial sanctum of the Irish Press and put into the hands of every Fianna Fáil speaker throughout the country, and it is because the truth of that has not been present to the minds of the members of the Fianna Fáil Party that any dangers to order exist which do exist in this country. You had them, before the present Government came into office, deliberately exciting the minds of the ignorant and excitable among our population by saying that the English had not been driven out at all, that the English were still planted in power here in this country. You had them, during the two elections, exciting the minds of the least educated and most excitable of the people by every device they could think of, by every sort of language, however extreme, to suggest that either we, on this side of the House, had not got Irish interests at heart and that we were entitled to be despised and spat upon as men who did not care about our country and who were stirred by nothing but Party passion or else that we had some sort of discreditable understanding with the people across the water. Then we had connived at by the Government the existence of illegal bodies who were allowed, week after week, to preach in their official organ that free speech ought not to be allowed to members of the Opposition. We were told the other day by a Minister that these people now are regarded as being an illegal organisation and yet not one of them has ever been prosecuted on the ground that he was a member of an illegal organisation. No action has been taken against them except when they were actively engaged in the commission of some crime. That state of things has been allowed to grow up. You had sinister forces in the background which threatened all the foundations of liberty and democracy in this country; you had a line of argument consistently pursued by members of the Fianna Fáil Party which was equally fatal to liberty and democracy.

Now, the President professes to think that liberty and democracy are threatened by the organisation connected with our Party, which is known as the Blue Shirts. To put it at its highest, all that rests on nothing more than unintelligent anticipation. Up to the present, it cannot be denied that those people have not committed crimes; it cannot be denied that they have created a democratic feeling by drawing different classes of the community together more closely than I remember their being drawn together in my life-time in this country. There is a truer spirit of democratic brotherhood to-day in the ranks of the Blue Shirts than I have known before in this country. They have achieved that, if they have achieved nothing else, but, in addition to that, they have brought back, in quarters in which it was sorely needed, the idea that the dignity of the individual is something worth protecting and something worth fighting for, and that it is certainly not less noble and romantic and patriotic to come out and protect the weak against the bully and protect order against the disorderly elements of the community than it is to follow the courses that have been followed by the friends of the Government whom they have been so long encouraging and protecting.

This Bill is not brought in on its merits. It is brought in as an act of ill-tempered retaliation for the rebuff the Government received last night from the Second Chamber—a Second Chamber which acted on that occasion, as on other occasions, in full accordance with its constitutional rights and its constitutional duties.

Question put.
The Dáil divided:—Tá: 59; Níl: 43.

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Bartley, Gerald.
  • Beegan, Patrick.
  • Blaney, Neal.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Brady, Brian.
  • Brady, Seán.
  • Breathnach, Cormac.
  • Breen, Daniel.
  • Briscoe, Robert.
  • Browne, William Frazer.
  • Carty, Frank.
  • Concannon, Helena.
  • Corish, Richard.
  • Corkery, Daniel.
  • Crowley, Timothy.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Doherty, Hugh.
  • Everett, James.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • Gibbons, Seán.
  • Goulding, John.
  • Hales, Thomas.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Houlihan, Patrick.
  • Jordan, Stephen.
  • Keely, Séamus P.
  • Kehoe, Patrick.
  • Kelly, James Patrick.
  • Kelly, Thomas.
  • Kilroy, Michael.
  • Kissane, Eamonn.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Little, Patrick John.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Maguire, Ben.
  • Maguire, Conor Alexander.
  • Moane, Edward.
  • Moore, Séamus.
  • Moylan, Seán.
  • Norton, William.
  • O'Briain, Donnchadh.
  • O'Doherty, Joseph.
  • O'Grady, Seán.
  • O'Kelly, Seán Thomas.
  • O'Reilly, Matthew.
  • Pearse, Margaret Mary.
  • Rice, Edward.
  • Ruttledge, Patrick Joseph.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Ryan, Martin.
  • Ryan, Robert.
  • Sheridan, Michael.
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Traynor, Oscar.
  • Victory, James.
  • Walsh, Richard.
  • Ward, Francis C. (Dr.).

Níl

  • Alton, Ernest Henry.
  • Beckett, James Walter.
  • Belton, Patrick.
  • Bennett, George Cecil.
  • Bourke, Séamus.
  • Broderick, William Joseph.
  • Dolan, James Nicholas.
  • Doyle, Peadar S.
  • Esmonde, Osmond Grattan.
  • Finlay, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Desmond.
  • Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.
  • Good, John.
  • Haslett, Alexander.
  • Holohan, Richard.
  • Keating, John.
  • Lynch, Finian.
  • MacDermot, Frank.
  • McFadden, Michael Og.
  • McGilligan, Patrick.
  • McGovern, Patrick.
  • Minch, Sydney B.
  • Brodrick, Seán.
  • Burke, James Michael.
  • Costello, John Aloysius.
  • Davis, Michael.
  • Dillon, James M.
  • Dockrell, Henry Morgan.
  • Morrisroe, James.
  • Mulcahy, Richard.
  • Myles, James Sproule.
  • Nally, Martin.
  • O'Higgins, Thomas Francis.
  • O'Leary, Daniel.
  • O'Mahony, The.
  • O'Neill, Eamonn.
  • O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
  • Redmond, Bridget Mary.
  • Rice, Vincent.
  • Rogers, Patrick James.
  • Rowlette, Robert James.
  • Thrift, William Edward.
  • Wall, Nicholas.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies Little and Traynor; Níl: Deputies Doyle and Bennett.
Question declared carried.
Second Stage ordered for Wednesday, 11th April.